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Twilight Samurai (5.1/DTS)
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I recorded 'The Twilight Samurai' when it was shown on BBC4 a week or so back (at time of writing) and only watched it last night with my dear old mother (again, at time of writing)! I have a fair knowledge of Far Eastern cinema and knew that this film wasn't an action romp or embellished piece of film-making. Neither was it a sweeping epic show-casing massive battle fields, beautiful landscapes and / or gigantic cities. This was a drama through-and-through, and a very good one at that. Anyone expecting an ultra-violent samurai flick or something on those lines will be disappointed, but I like to think they would persist with their viewing experience because there is a good chance they may come away rewarded with their preserverance (here's hoping).
I was captivated with The Twilight Samurai on multiple levels. The small cast of characters were all genuinely interesting and particular the main lead I found highly engaging. This was a character I cared about. The film oozed the feeling of history and culture, and the atmosphere amplified this aspect no end. This was simple and highly effective film-making (it was nice to watch a relatively modern film that didn't use flashy editing techniques, jerky hand-held cameras and elaborate visual trickery to keep people with short-attention spans interested. In fact, this film wouldn't have worked if it had tried to be to elaborate!). I loved the way it was shot and the camera angles really impressed me. Even the sound had a subtle quality to it (whether it was the background sounds or the musical score).
Indeed, my mother who has never really watched a "proper" Japanese film (or a film from the Far East region in general) was transfixed from beginning-to-end. I suspect a lot of her stereotypical notions of what Japanese film-making is all about had been nicely chipped away with this effort. She even said she would certainly be more willing to watch films from the Far East region after her enjoyment of this wonderful movie. And who can blame her on the evidence of this, eh?
On a personal note, one aspect I loved about our lead character was his contentment and happiness in the simple things. He wasn't interested in the pursuit of power, wealth or "improved" status. He wasn't a cheap-thrill seeker. He just cared about his family. This is an aspect in life (particulary modern-life) that people should pay more attention to. I know and have known many people who always want more, thanks to multiple factors such as media and the obsession with "celebrities" as well as the insatiable desire for materialistic gain. There may be nothing wrong with ambition, but in no way does it guarantee one shall live a more fulfilling life than someone content in the more simple things (probably the reverse in my opinion). Thought I'd add that!
Overall I thought The Twilight Samurai was an absolutely superb film and an example of what one misses out on if they have the prejudice of only sticking with english spoken films (fools!).
The DVD may not have any substantial extra features but it does offer Japanese language (with english subtitles) Dolby Digital 2.0, 5.1 and 5.1 DTS sound options and a beautiful picture.
My verdict: brilliant, brilliant film!
Diary Of The Dead: Limited Edition Steel Tin (2 Discs) (With Exclusive Sleeve Designed By Charlie Adlard)
Mass repulsion. Critical hatred. A tidal wave of negativity. Just a few ways to sum up the overall reaction that was levelled at George A Romero's newest zombie picture 'Diary Of The Dead' (excluding some exceptions of course). And with this branding very much in mind, I went into Diary Of The Dead with little to no expectation. At best I expected the film to be what I term "crap-but-good", at worst I expected a contender for the much abused category of "worst movie of all time" (a term that's become tired and clichèd to the point where its become a bit of a joke for me).
What I got however was not a contender for "worst movie" or even a "crap-but-good" film. Oh no. What I got was, for me, a decent zombie picture with plenty of satire on our modern times, some pitch black humour, lots of gore and plenty of entertainment. I was, to put it simply, impressed. Then again, when you go and watch a film with already rock-bottom expectations to begin with the odds are it'll be better than you expected. I suppose what happened here was the opposite / reverse of the more common occurence of a film (or whatever) being over-hyped but ultimately fails to fulfill those sky-high expectations. A nice surprise indeed.
Normally when I review "things" on here I talk about the DVD package but all of that has been covered by Play.com already so that saves me the "job". I could go on about how well this rates as a zombie film and how it fits into the genre, but apart from stating that this is my second favourite George A Romero zombie film after his 'Dawn Of The Dead' picture I won't discuss the subject no further. Though I will add (!!!) this is the first film in the genre I've seen for a little while that uses the ultra-traditional template for the zombie creature (and yes! I'm not one of those elitists who only believe the George A Romero shuffling zombies are "proper" zombies [proper? Proper?! Talk about having a complex!] . The modern "viral" zombie creatures seen in the likes of '28 Days Later', '28 Weeks Later', 'Dawn Of The Dead Remake', 'Quarintine', 'REC', the 'Resident Evil' films and even 'I Am Legend' I class as zombie themed films. I just view them as alternate interpretations of the zombie creation/s.).
Overall Diary Of The Dead is, in my eyes, a very good entry into the zombie film genre and one that I enjoyed as much as I did thanks in part to the thickle mass public and so-called (and probably self-proclaimed) movie critics. Add to the film's entertainment the quality of product on offer here is DVD at its best and the price ain't bad either!
I would give the film three and a half out of five but am unable to do so thanks to the rigid scoring system that is used. An underrated piece of film-making.
The Mist (2 Discs)
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Every year there are always a limited number of films that are released with minimal if any publicity (the former in this case) that turn out to be fantastic. After you've watched them you are often left wondering why they weren't in the spotlight more. 'The Mist' is one such example of this, and I easily class it alongside the better films of 2008.
I'm sure anyone reading these words will already know the basic details behind this film by now, but just in case The Mist is based on a Stephen King novel and directed by Frank Darabont, he who gave us 'The Shawshank Redemption' & 'The Green Mile' (both of which are based on the works of Stephen King. Notice the pattern?!). Frank Darabont may not have directed that many films, but he certainly can be classed as bringing audiences quality over quantity, and The Mist is certainly quality!
The film is well-paced (the two hour or so running time I felt was perfect), has good, distinct characters (with strong acting to accompany them), a decent storyline that has a great deal of intelligence underneath, some tense set-pieces and solid special effects. The effects may not be as technically impressive as the likes of, say, 'Transformers' or 'Iron Man' but they are excellent within the confines of this film. Because the film is classed as horror, don't go in expecting supernatural fear like seen in Stanley Kubrick's interpretation of 'The Shining' or Japanese masterpieces 'Ju-On: The Grudge 1&2' and the 'Ringu' trilogy (aka 'Ring'). The Mist isn't supernatural horror. More like "tense" horror seen in movies like John Carpenter's 'Assault On Precinct 13' and 'The Thing' (or even Ridley Scott's 'Alien' I guess). Having said that, The Mist isn't just about horror. The plot intrigue transcends that and the interaction between characters stuck in the confines of the supplies store is just as, if not more so, interesting than the beasts that are dwelling within The Mist! When I watched this movie I was often shouting at the TV either with anger towards some of the opinions / actions characters were choosing or agreeing openly about points I agree with ("...people are naturally good..."? I don't think so. The opposite in fact. I don't ask 'why is there evil in the world?'. I ask myself, 'why is there good in the world?'. I feel that's a more important question!). This is a thought provoking film that mainstream audeinces can - and should - enjoy.
The Special Edition version of this film is superb. You get the film in two different forms; the first being the full colour experience and the second the moody black & white take. Both excellent. Extra features are in abundance too (over two hours worth). Picture quailty is stunning, and equally so the sound. Well presented as well.
Overall The Mist was an unexpected treat. Certainly in my top five films of the year (globally) and a great overall experience. This film deserved far more recognition than it got. I'd give it four and a half out of five but am unable to do so. Highly recommended.
Fallout 3: Collector's Edition
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Fallout 3 was a title that was never high on my priority in this insane period of new "big game" releases. Indeed, the likes of 'Gears Of War 2', 'Fable II', 'Dead Space', 'Mirrors Edge', 'Tomb Raider: Underworld', 'Far Cry 2' e.t.c. all were, originally, going to be put ahead of this release. However, after reading numerous reviews and learning more about it, I decided to put this game ahead of all of the aforementioned (excluding Gears Of War 2 which I also purchased). And I'm damn glad that I did, because I can't see any game "beating" this in sheer quality!
At time of writing I am just over thirty hours in, and am still exploring the huge game world. On top of that boredom hasn't even remotely shown itself, which is a testament to the pull factor that this game manages to generate. Not only is this game HUGE, but its also engaging all the way (just because a game is big / long that doesn't mean for one moment the experience is anygood or, indeed, value for money). Fallout 3 is first and foremost a role playing game (aka RPG) but played in a first person perspective (it can also be viewed in a third person perspective but its pretty poor) with a strong shooter emphasis thrown in. I'd be here all day explaining the mechanics of this game, but needless to say it's very substantial and fun (without being alienating to those new to this genre of video game).
Visually the game is superb. Exploring a ruined Washington D.C. after a nuclear event is a very atmospheric experience (the Wastelands during the day are incredibly detailed and often breathtaking). The weakest visual element are the character models who aren't well animated and look a bit under detailed at times. A small gripe though. As for the audio side of things, the ambient effects are very effective. A subtle musical score also adds to the wonderful immersion factor. The voice acting is solid but not spectacular. As mentioned previously the game is massive, and if you add to the fact that you very well may need (and want) to play the game through multiple times you have a title that really will last you a very, very long time! Oh, and the story is good and the game touches upon many interesting topics that plague (or have plagued) real life (how can fiction exist wihout non-fiction to inspire it to begin with eh?).
Being a sucker for Limited Collector's Editions (in the world of video games they genuinely mean it when they say they're limited, unlike most DVD's!) I opted for this version of Fallout 3. Its a very nice set and though pricey, I feel this one (unlike most) was well worth it (probably helped by the fact the game is fantastic).
Anyone who likes the 'Mad Max' trilogy, 'Fist Of The North Star' material (the violence in Fallout 3 shares the same over the top nature as this), 'I Am Legend', 'Waterworld', 'The Postman', 'No Escape', 'Children Of Men' e.t.c. will probably enjoy this, particulary in detail and stylings. Also, more obviously, those who enjoyed 'The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion' and, indeed, the previous two 'Fallout' games (which I haven't had the pleasure of experiencing) will probably like this game too.
I would give this four and a half out of five but can't because the rating system here doesn't allow it. Probably game of the year and demonstrates that gaming in a traditional sense is anything but "dead"!
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Taiwanese film 'Chocolate' is an offering from (more or less) the same team that bought us the two Tony Jaa features 'Ong Bak' & 'Warrior King'. So what we have as a result is a martial arts movie with incredible stunts and fight sequences with basically no safety equipment in use, meaning health insurance wasn't easy to come by for the movies on-screen stars!
What makes Chocolate stand-out from Prachya Pinkaew's (the director) earlier efforts is that the lead protaganist is played by a young female actress called JeeJa Yanin who spent multiple years in training leading to this, her debut feature film. And I can confirm that all the hard work paid off and then some!
The first two or three action scenes play it relatively safe (for the high standards on offer here) and nicely demonstrate JeeJa Yanin's stuntwork and martial arts skills. By the last quarter though you'll be blown away by the sheer physical talent on offer! Indeed, from an action set-piece perspective Chocolate easily equals all this years big Hollywood spectacles and by the final quarter of this movie you'll be gasping for breath (if you'll excuse the tired clichè!). Just when you think its finally over another sequence presents itself, and one that is even better than the last (the final one in the film is INCREDIBLE, believe me)!
Though the story is probably the weakest aspect of the movie it isn't without functionality, and JeeJa Yanin's lead character is rather quite engaging (along with some of the other characters). Clearly the actress has talent elsewhere other than her physical abilities, and I look forward to seeing what she has to offer in the future.
As for the DVD product itself this single disc release contains clean & clear picture with Taiwanese language Dolby Digital 2.0 & 5.1 surround sound options with good English subtitles. No English dubbed track is on offer for those of you who either can't read or detest being made to (I don't buy into the argument about subtitles distracting from one's concentration on the picture. It carries with it the feeble cry of desperation to detract from the truth that many peope don't like being made to read or can't read altogether). Multiple featurettes on different aspects of making the movie are included, as well as deleted scenes and bloopers & out-takes (amongst a generous amount more I might add). A wonderful animated movie adds to the presentation.
Overall, Chocolate is a wonderful martial arts action film that fans of the genre should enjoy. However, like the previous reviewers have stated this film is likely to remain fairly obscure in the grand scheme of things with its bigger brothers Ong Bak and Warrior King (along with their bigger profile leading man) taking more of the mainstream attention. Its a shame, because as far as I'm concerned Chocolate is a better film overall to both those movies, and one that can be enjoyed on a regular basis.
Four out of five. Highly recommended.
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I'll begin by saying that Jacob's Ladder is one of my all-time faourite films. I first watched it shortly after playing the first 'Silent Hill' video game on the Sony Playstation 1 console back in 1999. I had read that Silent Hill was heavily influenced by the Jacob's Ladder film and having watched this movie quite a few times now, I can confirm that the influence it plays to the whole Silent Hill franchise is considerable to say the least! Even the more subtle aspects like the costumes and small details (anyone who's played Silent Hill 2 should notice that James Sunderland wears more-or-less the same outfit as Jacob Singer does at the end of the film) have been greatly influenced by this superb movie.
What many people don't know about this re-release from Optimum Entertainment (the original UK edition was distributed by Momentum Pictures) is that it is in fact the 'Special Edition' that was released in North America a year or two back. Why Optimum didn't promote this fact is beyond me because it has a very strong fanbase! What's worse, nowehere online seems to disclose this fact OR list any of the extra features.
For those who are interested (and no doubt some of you will be) this release of Jacob's Ladder contains an improved picture transfer (it still has film grain but the general colour, resolution and sharpness has been improved over the original Momentum release) alongside the choice of Dolby Digital 2.0 and 5.1 audio options (the original release only had a 5.1 audio option, which incidentally is impoved in Optimum's version). The extras features include two trailers and more importantly deleted scenes with director's commentary and a additional documentary. Oh, and for those that are interested a new options menu has been implemented that is simple but really effective.
Overall Jacob's Ladder is a classic thriller that is well-acted and thought provoking. A classic in my opinion, and its nice to see a pretty good edition of the film released on DVD too.
Though my official score is five out of five stars I would have given it four and a half out of five given the option.
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Brave Story is the second feature length animè film from Gonzo (the studio that bought us the likes of 'Full Metal Panic', 'Last Exile', 'Samurai Seven' and 'Afro Samurai' amongst many other properties), their first being 'Origin: Spirits Of The Past'.
Brave Story delivers first-rate animation and art work, though nothing that will revolutionize the medium. The same can be said / written about the storyline and characterizations. There is absolutely nothing in Brave Story that is original or unique. Indeed, in every department they're is another title (be it animè or otherwise) that does things better than this film. However, that doesn't mean this is a bad piece of animè.
As I already mentioned, the animation and art work is of good quality and even though the plot and characters don't possess any originality they are still pretty solid. There are some nice creature designs and some of the back story is quite dark, taking into account this is a more family orientated animè movie. Just because something is family orientated, that doesn't mean it can't touch upon darker, more "real" aspects of human nature (despite the progression in the West, the likes of Disney, Dreamworks and the like still can't achieve the balance an animè can in areas like this).
As for the DVD release itself, the picture quality is very good and the audio comes in Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 & 5.1 (with English subtitles) as well as English dubbed Dolby Digital 2.0. There are two extra features that include a 'Making-of...' and a substantial look at the film's premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. Considering the relatively unknown nature of the film (even in animè cycles) this release is pretty good for what it represents.
Overall Brave Story is a solid animè fantasy film that does nothing new or distinct but offers an entertaining experience. Those in their late late preteens and / or early teens should find this a good starting point into mainstream animè and probably make a nice change from the usual Disney & Dreamworks animated features (not that I think there is anything wrong with them mind you). Also, I don't believe Brave Story is a patch on 'Origins: Spirits Of The Past' (even if the latter itself isn't original or unique). The former lacks the consistent high production values the latter possessed and is certainly not as visually striking. Thought I'd add that!
Anyway, Brave Story gets a resepectful three out of five stars.
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Dante 01 for those who don't know is a French science-fiction film set in a psychiatric space facility orbiting the firey planet Dante 01 (see what they did there?). I very rarely talk about plot and character specifics when I review things and I won't be changing that trend here! All you need to know is that Dante 01 is a half-decent science-fiction film.
If you happen to like the likes of 'Alien 3', 'Event Horizon', 'Sunshine' and to a lesser extent '2001: A Space Odyssey' and 'Cube' then this film will probably entertain you to some degree, Though I don't rate it as highly as any of the aforementioned (apart from 'Cube' perhaps) it still isn't a half-bad film. It has some nice special effects and set designs and some interesting concepts (though they can't be classed as original). The acting does the job to.
The product contains the original French language with English subtitles in Dolby Digital 5.1 and good picture quality. The two extras on the disc include a trailer and a substantial 'Making-of documentary'.
My final verdict on Dante 01 is its a solid, diverting film but probably won't be remembered or talked about in the medium-to-long-term future. Three out of five (though it would be two and a half out of five given the option).
NOTE: I've noticed on the web when I've been investigating this film that a lot of negativity it get appears to be down to it's Christian undertones. Personally, just because a film (or video game or book for that matter) might favour a certain "view" that a certain audience member may not agree with that shouldn't deter one's enjoyment from the experience. I mean, when I read Philip Pullman's 'His Dark Materials' trilogy I highly enjoyed the read, and that's taking into account that I don't agree with a lot of the opinions and themes that run through it. Think about it...
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Tekkonkinkreet (aka 'Black & White') is not only one of my favourite animès of all-time (whether it be TV series, OVA [Original Video Animè] or film) but one of my favourite movies period! It really is that good. Believe the words of the previous four reviewers (and myself), this is entertainment at it's best!
Firstly the animation and artwork is simply beautiful! Its a perfect blend of cell-drawn animation and digital techniques, and seamless IS the word to describe it! For some people (particulary those new - or fairly new - to the whole animè scene) the abstract art direction of the characters may potentially put them off. But if that obstacle does present itself please think of the term "Never judge a book by it's cover." for guidance. Please. From a visual standpoint, this film is as good as they come in my opinion. Tekkonkinkreet also has a suitable musical score to go with the film which adds to the atmosphere nicely.
What makes Tekkonkinkreet a great film rather than a very good film is the wonderful cast of characters and general stroryline. The two main child protaganists - Black & White - are simply wonderful and their relationship is touching and very believable. The supporting cast is top-draw too, though it would have been nice if the central villian had just a tad bit more screen time (that is a very, very minor complaint though). When you add the story and characterizations with the animation and artwork (and an excellent running time that neither seems too short nor too long) then you have one hell of a film (regardless of genre)!
The DVD product itself is pretty good too. The picture quality is as good as the format has to offer (those visuals!), and the audio comes in English dubbed (which is a good dub I might add) or Japanese language with English subtitles, both in excellent Dolby Digital 5.1 form! Extras include a good audio commentary, a substantial director & musicians interview and a very, very good 'making of documentary' diary (along with the usual bits and bobs like trailers and such-like)!
Overall Tekkonkinkreet is not just one for the animè crowd; its not just one for animation fans; its one for film lovers everywhere. Its THAT good! Buy it! Buy it now!
Dark City: Director's Cut
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I first watched Dark City about three or so years ago when it was aired on the Sci-Fi channel and I was very, very impressed by what I saw (and heard). However, despite how good I thought the film was, for reasons that I can't explain I forgot about the movie until I discovered a Director's Cut DVD release was on the cards. The memories came flooding back to me and I bought a copy.
Dark City rates, as far as I'm concerned, as one of the best science-fiction films I've ever seen. Indeed, I'd put this title within the premier league of what the genre has to offer, and that includes classics such as '2001: A Space Odyssey', 'Akira', 'Blade Runner', 'Ghost In The Shell 1&2: Innocence' and, in my opinion, 'The Matrix' (I've noticed two extreme opinions towards 'The Matrix', both of which are gross simplifications if you ask me) to name but a few.
I'm not one for trying to simplify certain films but for the curious amongst you who have yet to experience this excellent, over-looked film imagine a blend of 'Blade Runner', 'The Matrix' and 'Sin City' (bearing in mind that Dark City pre-dates the latter two films). When I say 'Sin City' I don't mean in plot or characterizations but it's stylings. As most have mentioned already, this film is heavy on noir and it helps to create a very effective distinction between it and other films of it's type. Add to this a very good plot, good characters (who are well acted by an impressive assembly of actors & actresses) and some interesting concepts and you have a top-draw movie!
The Director's Cut DVD release itself is stunning stuff to say the least! It contains multiple audio commentaries, numerous documentaries and other bits and bobs that round off the package in a "sublime" fashion (excuse the OTT praise here!)! Also of note is the incredible picture and sound quality. The picture is faultless, and only for the very occasional weak digital effect/s (this was a film from 1998 after all) you couldn't tell this apart from a brand new movie! The same acclaim applies to the audio quality as well, which comes in Dolby Digital 2.0 & 5.1EX.
Overall Dark City: Director's Cut is a superb film that has a DVD release of exceptional quality (and that's taking into account its all on one disc too!) at an excellent price (at time of writing). I recommend without hesitation!
NOTE: I would have given four and a half stars out of five if I could so instead I gave a full five.